BANGKOK — Ah, Valentine's Day. Call the police, or better yet the Moral Promotion Center.
In most countries, Feb. 14 is a highly commercialized day of romance. In Thailand, it's also a time for strict warnings — and this year a new Twitter hashtag aimed at preventing premarital sex.
The Culture Ministry's Moral Promotion Center launched a widely publicized campaign earlier this week called "Just a Meal for Valentine's Day" that urges teens to go home after their dinner dates. It's also asking youths to show support for the campaign by tweeting (hashtag)DinnerOnly in Thai. A Twitter search Friday found that the request had drawn varied reactions of mockery with many postings of the Thai equivalent to LOL!
Despite its well-earned reputation to the outside world as a freewheeling destination for sex tourism, Thailand's socially conservative authorities are on a constant mission to uphold the country's traditional Buddhist values among Thai people. Hollywood movies are censored with sex scenes and cigarette smoking pixelated out, and Thai soap operas can't show alcohol consumption. Authorities annually warn youths to avoid "inappropriate activities" on Valentine's Day, which is widely celebrated in Thailand.
"Parents and teachers should create correct understanding about Valentine's Day with children," Narathip Pumsap, the Moral Promotion Center's director, was quoted as saying on the English-language website of the Khaosod newspaper. Narathip suggested that instead of engaging in intimacy, teens "show love to their family, society, themselves and the country."
This year's campaign comes amid a morality overhaul initiated by Thailand's military government, which took power from an elected administration following a coup last May.
The Ministry of Culture said it conducted a recent survey that found 83 percent of Thai teenagers planned to have sex on Valentine's Day, according to The Nation and several other Thai newspapers, which did not say whether the survey had a margin of error.
The National Police Force has asked parents and teachers to inform children of the "dangers" of Valentine's Day and to avoid "risky behavior," police Maj. Gen Patipat Suban Na Ayuuthaya told a news conference earlier this week, according to the Khaosod newspaper.
Police have also warned nightclubs nationwide not to admit underage customers. Patipat said that all police units would be on alert until Sunday to "increase vigilance in risky areas" such as nightclubs, and urged entertainment venues to call police hotlines to reports cases of youths trying to enter.
One all-girl's school in Bangkok took the extra step of holding a Valentine's Day self-defense class earlier this week. Thai media showed policewomen on stage in the auditorium of the Sainampeung School flipping a man before an assembly of hundreds of students.